One surfboard at a time, a handful of college students with a dream of eco-friendly wave riding are making a difference for the environment.
Corvallis’ Buni Surfboard Company emerged from the icy ocean waters of Cannon Beach during summer 2020, when Parker Conrad and Mason Crawford decided they would craft a surfboard.
The name Buni is a nod to the population of bunnies inhabiting the south end of Cannon Beach. The brand name and its rabbit logo were created by Aaron Bernhard when he joined up with Conrad and Crawford.
With tools and materials in hand, and with the help of a few friends and some construction scraps, they cobbled together their first workshop in Conrad’s parents’ backyard — a shaping bay known as “the first rabbit hole.” Then they did the finishing work at Crawford’s grandparents’ gardening shed.
“I don’t think my parents nor his grandparents were the most stoked about it,” Conrad said, noting the mess surfboard-making can make.
It took seven people working together to make the first surfboard, which was entirely hand-shaped. It may not have been much to look at, but it caught waves and swelled the enterprising young surfers with the pride of accomplishment.
“It was called Patient Zero, sort of an homage to it being our first board and also the COVID craziness that was happening at the time,” Conrad said. “We loved it. When you make your own board, no matter how bad it is, you have such a connection to it. It surfs differently.”
After the first year, Buni sort of hibernated for a bit. Conrad focused on spreading the word, having made 2½ surfboards by then. He and Alihan Baysal built a prototype website as a college project, but something was still missing.
Enter Frederick Boulton, a surfer from Long Island, New York who brought a fresh perspective focused on the environment and sustainability.
Buni is powered by its eco-friendly philosophy. Starting with foam blanks made in Oregon, they cut an outline and shape the board, coat it in fiberglass and seal it with epoxy resin. Along the way, there’s a lot of elbow grease involved in sanding to find the desired shape.
“And there’s a hydrodynamic side of things,” Conrad said. “You’re really trying to imagine how the water is going to grab the rail or flow through the bottom of the board.”
Using recyclable foam from Great Pacific Foam, Buni’s foam waste goes straight to a local recycling plant specializing in reusing expanded polystyrene. Fiberglass offcuts are stored for future use in projects and repairs, and the bio-resin Buni uses is a plant-based alternative to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
On top of all that, any resin that doesn’t make it onto a surfboard is repurposed in Buni’s line of shot glasses, coasters and plant pots. Only a small percentage of the waste generated isn’t repurposed, and the team is looking for a solution to totally eliminate waste.
“That was really our goal — try to take a more sustainable approach to it,” Conrad said.
Participating in an eco-sustainability initiative called The Ecoboard Project sets Buni apart from typical surfboard makers, with the bio-resin they use putting Buni on a short list of eco-friendly makers, according to Conrad.
“Everything goes back to the ocean,” Katie Zagata said. “Stuff like wetsuit waste and board waste is a huge factor. … Anything you can do to reduce your waste is going to eventually help with the buildup of micro plastics in the ocean.”
Traditional board manufacturing is quite toxic, he said, noting that’s a strange dichotomy for a group that tends to be more in tune with nature. Rather than supplying people with a series of cheap boards headed to a landfill or Davy Jones’ locker, Buni aims to make products lasting a lifetime or longer.
“What we’re doing is making boards not only in the most responsible way we can, but boards that will last as long as possible to reduce waste long-term,” Josiah Hirsch said. “Like Katie said, everything ends up in the ocean eventually, and once it’s there it starts to break down and get into everything.”
In fall 2021, Buni was ready for a home of its own — a 400-square-foot upstairs art studio at 340 SW Second St. in downtown Corvallis. Now a team of eight, all but one are Oregon State University students (one already graduated). In addition to the New York transplant, there are also two surfers from Texas.
Most of the boards Buni makes are built to order, though the team also recently connected with Newport Surf Shop to provide some stock. Conrad said Buni boards are built to be sturdy, so they don’t deteriorate and pollute the ocean. They also match the specific goals and style of the customer.
Oregon surfers are a different breed, it should be noted, risking cold and rocky Pacific Ocean waters at all times of year in pursuit of the next big wave. That typically means wearing a thick wetsuit while thinking a lot of warm thoughts, Conrad said. But it also means big fun.
“To the new surfer it’s definitely intimidating and pretty scary,” he said. “But once you develop an understanding of the ocean it works out pretty well.”